Actions

Work Header

To Hell and Back

Work Text:

To Hell and Back
By JJJunky

 

Dean Winchester’s stomach turned with the tires of his car as he spun the Impala’s steering wheel and guided it down the narrow, dirt driveway. Shaded lights glowed dully from the windows in the farmhouse ahead, the only man-made illumination within view. The desolation made him straighten up in his seat, causing the muscles in his back to spasm, and his foot to ease up on the gas pedal. The roar of the big car’s engine sounded loud in the still night. In the city, Dean rarely heard the noise, much less found it annoying. But here, in the solitude of the countryside, it seemed almost offensive.

He parked next to the barn as he had been instructed, and shut off the engine. Swiveling in his seat, Dean stared at the old house. The lights should’ve been welcoming but weren’t. The wraparound porch should have been homey but wasn’t. It felt like something was off; he just couldn’t put a finger on what—or why. It wasn’t as if this was the first time he had met a girl in a bar and been invited home. It was just the first time he was sorry he hadn’t ignored his body’s urges.

Uncommonly pretty, Bambi Clark had gravitated to Dean the minute he entered Leslie, Illinois’ only tavern. He had been flattered, but hadn’t expected anything more than a little heavy petting. After all, this was the Bible Belt. Plus, he hadn’t often felt the impulse to bed a woman since his return from Hell. The lack of desire had begun to worry him. Yet, when she had invited him to her farm, he had declined reluctantly. Dean wasn’t looking for a shotgun wedding. Only when she assured him her parents were out of town had he uneasily agreed.

Now, he wished he hadn’t. His priorities had changed. Dean felt he was about to take advantage of an innocent young girl, and it didn’t sit right.

After finally getting out of the car, he walked slowly to the farmhouse, cursing himself for not listening to his instincts. He was tempted to get in the Impala and drive straight back to the motel where he and Sam had a room. Each step took him closer to a decision he never thought he would make: he would offer his regrets to Bambi and rejoin his brother.

The battle inside him having signed a truce, Dean climbed the steps to the back door and knocked. A sound to his left made him swing in that direction. He cursed himself when he realized he had been suckered. He quickly swung back only to see a baseball bat flying at his head. Even as he shifted to duck, he knew it would be too late.

***

Long past uneasy and approaching concerned, Sam Winchester paced the small motel room, wearing new holes in the threadbare carpet. This wasn’t the first time Dean had stayed out all night. However it was the first time he hadn’t called the next morning to check on his little brother. Even at a young age, Sam had understood the nature of the wake-up calls. They weren’t to crow about a conquest, they were to ensure Sam had made it through the night safely. If there was one thing Winchesters knew, it was how much danger lurked in the darkness.

But this morning, there had been no overly-perky voice telling Sam to “rise and shine.” And when Sam had dialed Dean’s cell phone, it had gone straight to voice mail. With the number of messages he’d already left, he knew if Dean was physically able, he would’ve called by now.

Sam’s first instinct had been to rush out to find his brother. Two things stopped him: he didn’t know where to look, and he had no transportation…unless he hot-wired a car. A choice that, while dangerous in such a small town, was fast becoming his only option.

In the bar they had visited the night before to fill their almost-empty wallets, Dean had met a girl. Apparently intrigued by Dean’s prowess at the pool table, she had practically hung on his arm the entire evening. Sam had known he would be going back to the motel alone at the end of the evening. He hadn’t minded. In fact, he had hoped the interlude would help Dean sublimate his internal battles for a few hours. And maybe, for one night, the horrors of Hell would be kept at bay. Relatively early in the evening, by Dean’s standards, Sam had walked back to their motel, hoping his brother would take the hint. Now he wished he hadn’t.

The rumble of an engine had him rushing to the door and flinging it open. Sam’s initial elation was followed by disappointment when he saw the occupant of the car parking in front of his room was Bobby Singer. Their friend’s arrival solved one of Sam’s problems, but he had been expecting to see Dean climbing out of the Impala, not Bobby out of his rusty Chevelle.

As soon as Singer spoke, it was clear he had read Sam’s body language. “What’s wrong?”

Moving aside so the older man could enter the small room, Sam said, “Dean met a girl in a bar last night, and he hasn’t come home.”

Bobby smiled. “Dean’s a big boy.”

“A big boy who also knows how to find trouble.”

The smile fading, Bobby asked, “Why do you think he’s in trouble?”

“He didn’t call this morning.” Sam ticked the reasons off on his fingers. “He isn’t answering his cell even though I’ve left a dozen messages, and he knew you were coming.”

“Maybe his phone’s off or the battery’s dead.”

Shaking his head, Sam sat heavily on the end of his bed. Almost immediately, he bounced back up to his feet and resumed pacing. “Then he’d find a way to let me know he’s okay. He always does.”

“What’s the girl’s name?” A frown creased Bobby’s forehead.

“I heard Dean call her Bambi. I don’t know if that’s her real name or a nickname.”

Turning, Bobby opened the door and led the way outside. “We’ll start at the bar where Dean met her. I can’t imagine there are a lot of local girls named after a boy deer.”

Grateful he was finally doing something, Sam quickly followed the older man. There was a pit in his stomach, making it ache. He had just gotten his brother back from Hell. Fate wouldn’t be so cruel as to take him away again, would it? Then again, they were Winchesters. Bad luck was a bitch who knew their names.

***

Dean carefully lifted his head, afraid any quick movement would send the bees buzzing softly inside his skull into an angry swarm. The darkness greeting his eyes as he slowly rolled back the lids scared him into believing he was blind, until his mind registered the fabric covering his head. No light seeped under the edges nor penetrated the thick fabric. Dean lifted his hands to remove the hood, only to feel a rope looped around his neck tighten, cutting off his air. He quickly moved his arms back to their original locations, panting to fill his lungs.

Pushing away the panic that accompanied almost being strangled, Dean forced himself to evaluate his position as a soldier would assess a battle—the way his father had taught him. He was sitting in a chair, but not tied to it. The cold, hard steel of handcuffs chained his wrists together in front of him, while a rope pulled his elbows back at his waist. From there, it ran up his back to form a noose around his neck. Between the two restraints, he had limited use of his hands. And as he had discovered, if he tried to lift his arms or lower his head, the rope tightened, immediately cutting off his air supply.

He cautiously moved his legs. When the action elicited nothing in the way of pain or punishment, he slowly climbed to his feet. His aching head and the loss of sight made it difficult to keep his balance.

Unable to use his primary sense, Dean focused on the others. He couldn’t feel the sun or wind; he must be indoors. A faint whisper of lavender teased his nose, but another scent Dean was all too familiar with—the stench of decay—overwhelmed it. He didn’t need to see to know the odor came from human bodies.

The hood—and the smell—making it difficult for him to breathe, Dean slid a foot forward. When it didn’t encounter an obstacle, he moved his left leg to join the right. Something tugged at his pant leg. Fear of the unknown made him pause. He couldn’t avoid what you couldn’t see. But he also couldn’t escape standing still. Gritting his teeth, Dean stepped forward.

Something sharp sliced across his calf. The cry issuing from his lips was one of surprise, until air entered the open cut, making it sting. Moving to the side to give it a wide berth, Dean felt another sharp object slice through his clothes and into his side.

With warm blood trickling down his flesh from the two shallow wounds, he stopped, fearful of taking another step. Deciding the chair was a much safer position to collect himself and determine what course of action to take, he shuffled backward.

“No, no, no,” someone commanded. “You’re a pawn. You can’t go backward. You can only go forward or to the side.”

Recognizing Bambi’s voice, Dean asked, “What’s going on?’

“Some might say a game,” Bambi sweetly replied. “I call it payback.”

Dean carefully turned his head in her direction. The rough hemp of the rope scratched the tender flesh of his throat, making him stop. “Payback for what?”

“For torturing me.”

“Lady, I never met you before tonight.”

“You never met Bambi,” the girl clarified. “She’s just the meat suit I used to get you here.”

His knees almost giving way beneath him, Dean gasped, “You’re a demon.”

“Bingo.”

Realizing the demon must have been one of his victims in Hell, Dean swallowed his nausea. It wasn’t as though he could say he was sorry. An apology couldn’t even begin to make amends for what he had done. “What’re you going to do?”

“Tit for tat.”

Dean felt a small hand pat him on the chest. He involuntarily jumped, bringing him up against another blade. This one sliced the back of his left thigh. The pain was far greater than the superficial cut should have elicited. Dean bit his tongue to keep from crying out. He didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of knowing her plan was working.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you, some of the knives have salt on them.” Bambi giggled. “Just to spice things up.”

Dean took slow, deep breaths, trying to settle his jangling nerves. He regretted the action when the fouled air from the decaying bodies filled his lungs.

“Come find me.”

Breathing from his mouth, Dean panted, “And if I refuse?”

“Then I’ll just have to go get Sammy. Maybe he’ll be more cooperative.”

Like all demons, she knew what buttons to push to get what she wanted. Dean would play her game. He had no choice. For now.

***

When they pulled up in front of The Silo and found it open, Sam sighed with relief. The town was ultra conservative, and he had been afraid the bar would be closed this early in the morning. Even though the FBI believed Sam and Dean Winchester were dead, it wasn’t safe to go to the police asking questions about the town’s citizens. That would be their last alternative. Right now, this was their best lead to find Dean.

When they entered, Sam immediately realized why it was open: it was the closest the town had to a Starbucks. Hoping he could get a latte to settle his churning stomach, he crossed to the bar and ordered.

“Sorry, buddy,” a woman with the name “Molly” stitched on her uniform explained, “we don’t have those fancy drinks. I kin get ya a regular coffee, hot tea, or iced tea. We have a cappuccino machine, but nobody’s ever ordered one. ” A hand waved, indicating the dusty appliance in the corner.

Disappointed, Sam said, “Two coffees, black.”

“Coming right up.”

Watching Molly pour a thick, gummy substance into two cups, Sam forced himself not to wince. When she handed him a mug, he took a cautious sip. It took all his willpower not to spit it out. Amazed, he saw Bobby down a good portion of his cup with a satisfied moan.

“You boys need anythin’ else?”

“Actually…” Sam put his mug on the counter and leaned forward, lowering his voice. “My brother met a girl here last night. She said her name was Bambi.”

“Bambi? Bambi Clark was here?” Shock was evident on Molly’s pudgy face as well as in her voice.

“Unless there are two women in town with the name Bambi.”

“Her folks’re strict Baptists,” explained Molly. “They don’t cotton ta drinkin’ and smokin’.”

If it was possible, Sam grew even more concerned. “Do you know where she lives?” he anxiously asked.

Molly hesitated, studying Sam’s face before finally revealing, “The Clarks live ’bout seven miles north of town. Their name is on the mailbox.”

“Thank you.” Sam threw a twenty on the bar.

Quickly swallowing the remainder of the liquid in his cup, Bobby followed Sam outside.

***

It was getting harder and harder to keep moving. Every step had the potential to cause excruciating pain. But Dean knew he couldn’t stop. If he did, the demon would go after Sam. When Dean collapsed from blood loss or died, Sam would be next. But Dean had faith in his brother. The longer he could keep going, the better his chances of survival. More importantly, the better chance Sam had of surviving.

A sharp slice across his right biceps had him tensing up, waiting for the burning to start in the wound. He unconsciously sighed when the pain remained blissfully blunted. The anticipation of when, where, and how had become more difficult to bear than the pain itself. He dreaded the knives with salt on them; it was hard to keep from screaming as fire burned through the new cut. He remembered in Hell how satisfying it had been to hear his victims scream. He’d had what felt like an eternity to learn how to inflict pain and suffering, and he had been a good student. So good, he almost missed it.

A realization that made him sick to his stomach.

What Bambi was doing to him didn’t compare to what he’d endured in the Pit. Alastair had been nothing if not inventive. But Dean had forced himself to close his mind to the worst of the atrocities for thirty years…until it had all become too much and he had broken. He would never forgive himself. But Bambi, or rather the demon inhabiting Bambi, wouldn’t believe him—or care.

“If you think you’re going to escape by bleeding to death, you’re not even close,” said Bambi.

That was the least of Dean’s concerns, though he couldn’t let her know it. “Thanks so much,” he said, feigning gratitude. “I was beginning to wonder.”

“I don’t want you to die quickly. That would ruin my fun.”

“I’m sure you learned enough tricks in the Pit to keep you busy for years.”

“Unfortunately, I can’t use most of them.”

Dean shuddered, knowing she was right. Most of the things that had been done to him down there would leave his physical body beyond repair and thus beyond suffering. He had to be grateful for small favors.

“I actually got this idea from Bambi. She read it in a book. Guess you don’t have to be a demon to think up effective ways to torture someone.”

“Just my luck, you stole the life of someone who liked to read,” grumbled Dean.

Her voice taking on a cruel edge, Bambi said, “While I was lying on that table and you were tearing me apart, all I could think of was what I would do to you when our roles were reversed.”

Unable to stop it, Dean’s voice cracked as he commiserated, “I know how you felt.”

“But then you were pulled out of Hell, and my dream was torn out with it,” continued Bambi, ignoring him. Her voice rising, she screamed, “Why were you so special? Why were you saved?”

“I wish I knew,” Dean ruefully admitted. “But since you escaped, too, I’m obviously not the only one who’s special.”

“You’ll never know what it cost me.”

“Actually, I would like to know how you did it.” Dean snorted. “Just in case I find myself back there again.”

A high-pitched laugh echoed around the room, cutting straight through Dean’s aching head. She didn’t answer him, but he really hadn’t expected her to. He had used the conversation as an excuse to distract her, so she wouldn’t realize he had stopped moving.

“If you stop again, Sammy will pay the price.”

The break had given him a small reprieve…and bought Sam more time. Dean knew Sam would find him. Every minute brought rescue a little closer. The one thing Dean had never lost was faith in his brother.

Still, it took every bit of strength he had to take first one faltering step and then another. Though it only made the pain worse, his muscles tensed, anticipating the next encounter with a sharp object and the suffering it would cause. But as much as he tried, he couldn’t push back the memories. He wanted all this to go away. It reminded him too much of Hell.

***

Bobby parked the Chevelle around the corner from a long, gravel driveway. They had seen the Impala next to the barn and realizing Dean would never leave his baby, knew he had to be around.

As they trudged across the cornfield, taking advantage of the towering stalks to hide them from seeking eyes, Sam started to get nervous. If Dean was getting busy, their sudden appearance would be really embarrassing. But Sam would rather be embarrassed and suffer some—make that a lot of teasing—than take a chance on losing his brother.

Those four months had been Sam’s own version of Hell. His physical body hadn’t been torn to pieces, but his heart had. It had been worse than when Jess had died. Without Dean, Sam had found himself slipping into an all-consuming darkness. After Jess, he had thrown himself into the hunt. This time, it hadn’t been enough. He had become a person…no, more of a thing, he didn’t like.

Leaving the cornfield, Sam and Bobby slipped into the shadows offered by the barn. When they reached the corner, Sam stopped. Almost thirty feet still separated them from the farmhouse. Every foot of the space was in the open. Anyone looking out a window would see them. “I’ll take the front,” he whispered.

“Then I’ll get the back,” agreed Bobby.

Filling his lungs with air, Sam sprinted to the house. When he reached the brick wall, he flattened against it and took several deep breaths to calm his nerves. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting, but he wouldn’t have been surprised if a bullet had greeted his appearance.

A few steps to his left brought him to a window. Crouching low, he peeked inside.

Lace curtains distorted his view but didn’t block it. He saw furniture scattered around a large dining and living room area. Each piece bristled with knives of all description, ranging from a steak knife to a switchblade. Many were stained with what looked like blood. The sight made Sam shudder.

He barely contained a gasp when he saw Dean stumbling among the lethal weapons with a hood over his head. Blood liberally stained his clothes. Shock turned to rage, making Sam clench his fists to restrain his temper.

Sitting in a chair in the doorway to the kitchen was the girl Sam recognized as Bambi. Her black eyes told Sam all he needed to know. With a single thought Bambi could fling Dean onto one of the knives where it could pierce an artery or his heart. Sam knew what he had to do. Dean would be angry, but he didn’t care. Trying to do an exorcism without a Devil’s Trap would mean certain death for Dean and Bambi. Sam’s way, they both had a chance to survive.

He would have to be closer, though, to be effective. Sam carefully planned a route from the front door to Bambi. Surprise would give him the time he needed to defeat the demon, however it would only be a matter of seconds. He closed his eyes, preparing himself as much as possible to expel the demon but still have enough control to move his body.

Slowly opening the door, Sam blindly took the course he’d mapped out, bringing him within a few feet of the demon. Fearful Dean would badly injure himself, Sam took the risk and used a small portion of his concentration to shout to his brother. “Dean, don’t move!”

With an outstretched hand, Sam directed all the power Ruby had taught him to command into vanquishing the demon inside the young girl. He could feel her trying to fight him as her hands went to her throat. Concentrating all the fear he had felt when Dean disappeared and the anger at seeing his brother tortured, Sam drove the demon from the body it had stolen.

As Bambi slumped bonelessly from her chair, Sam staggered, almost falling onto one of the knives, but he regained his balance and stumbled to her. Taking deep breaths to renew his energy, he knelt beside her and searched for a pulse, softly swearing when he couldn’t find one. Sam wasn’t sure if his failure to save the girl’s life was because he was out of practice or because she’d been dead before the demon took her. Either way, the outcome was the same: a young girl had paid with her life

Forcing himself back to his feet, Sam carefully crossed to Dean’s side. “It’s over, Dean. The demon’s gone.”

Puzzled and a little worried when his brother didn’t reply, Sam snatched a knife from the leg of a chair and used it to cut the rope binding Dean’s arms. When Dean didn’t do it himself, Sam pulled off the hood and slipped the noose over Dean’s head.

Dean blinked rapidly in the brightly lit room, jumping and almost falling onto a knife when Bobby suddenly appeared in the kitchen doorway. Sam’s steadying hand saved him from serious injury.

“There’s an older man and woman in here,” said Bobby, a worried gaze resting on Dean. “They’re both dead.”

For the first time, Sam became aware of the stench permeating the room. It made him gag, thankful he hadn’t had more than a sip of disgusting coffee for breakfast. “The demon wanted them out of its way.”

“That would be my guess.”

Noticing Dean wasn’t too steady on his feet, Sam carefully put an arm around his waist to support him. The only time Sam had ever seen his brother this quiet was during a hunt when it was a matter of life and death. Nervously, he realized there was a difference between that kind of calm and what Dean was exhibiting here. Miles and miles of walking through the deadly maze had obviously made him retreat into himself in self-defense. It appeared as though he was in deep shock, which wasn’t a surprise considering how many hours he had spent maneuvering through this house of horrors.

Bobby cleared his throat, drawing Sam’s attention. “Should we call the police?” Sam tentatively inquired.

“You boys should get out of here,” Bobby argued. “I’ll collect all the knives with Dean’s blood on them and follow you.”

“No one will believe we had nothing to do with this,” said Sam, certain Dean was in no condition to endure a police interrogation.

“Give me the key to your motel room. I’ll get your stuff.” Bobby held out his hand. “Head west on 295. I’ll call you.”

“Let’s go, Dean.” Sam gently guided his brother around the deadly obstacles to the front door.

When they reached the Impala, Sam retrieved a pick and removed the cuffs from around Dean’s wrists. As he quickly categorized each cut for severity, he realized Dean hadn’t said a word since his rescue. Though it worried him, Sam had more pressing matters.

He put bandages on the worst of the injuries, before helping Dean onto the passenger seat. Once they were far from a crime scene that could put them in the electric chair, he would concentrate on tending his brother’s psychological wounds. There was always a chance Molly would remember the strange men who had been looking for Bambi. They had to get out of Leslie before they could rest and regroup.

***

Sam turned the key in the lock and opened the door to another small room in another seedy motel. He barely noticed the peeling wallpaper or the matching faded bedspreads except to think it looked like they had originally been a shade of yellow. He turned the light on between the two full beds, then hurried back outside to help Dean. To his surprise, his brother hadn’t moved. He stared straight ahead, almost without blinking, just as he had the entire six hour journey from Illinois. Not once on the long drive had Dean answered a question or showed any interest when Sam checked his bandages.

Suppressing a sigh, Sam eased Dean’s legs out of the car. Once he was certain they were firmly on the ground, he pulled Dean onto his feet. He was almost happy when the action produced a grunt of pain. He would rather have heard a bad joke or a curse-laden tirade, but any sign that Dean still responded to stimulus was welcome.

Each step unnaturally slow, Dean shambled into the motel room. When he sat on the bed closest to the door, Sam took it as a good sign, even when Dean continued to stare at nothing.

After a quick call to Bobby to tell him where they were, Sam got the first-aid kit from the car, and collected the supplies he would need to minister to Dean’s numerous wounds. He was relieved they had kept their tetanus shots updated. Many of the knives he had seen were rusty, while others had been covered in filth. Dean would be lucky if he didn’t end up with an infection.

Sam grabbed a couple of pain killers, an antibiotic, just to be on the safe side, and a glass of water. He put the pills inside Dean’s mouth and placed the edge of the glass to his lips. Sam was relieved when Dean swallowed the medication and downed almost the whole glass of water before turning his head away, indicating he’d had enough.

Hoping his chattering comforted Dean, Sam took off his brother’s over-shirt and t-shirt. They were stiff with dried blood. Starting on Dean’s right arm, Sam methodically worked his way across the shoulders to the other arm, then down the chest.

As he took in the multitude of bandages covering the pale flesh, Sam realized that by the time he was done, the front half of Dean would resemble a mummy.

Lifting Dean to his feet, Sam unbuttoned the jeans and carefully pulled them down. Blood had dried allowing the fabric to stick to the skin making it necessary to give a hard tug. Many of the wounds started to bleed again. For the first time, Dean reacted, wincing as air struck the cuts. Sam was sorry pain had been the instigator. But he was relieved Dean had finally responded to something.

Sam eased Dean back onto the bed, not caring when blood stained the faded bedspread. He worked faster. His brother’s pale features told him Dean couldn’t afford to lose more blood.

“You used your mojo, didn’t you?”

The shock of hearing Dean’s voice caused Sam to drop the washcloth he had been using to clean out a cut on his brother’s thigh. He opened his mouth to lie but found he didn’t have the heart. The need for an answer had brought Dean out of his stupor. Sam decided the least he could do was be honest. “I had to. If I’d tried to exorcise her, she would have had time to kill you, or she would have left Bambi, taken off, and come after you again. I saw what she did to you. I couldn’t let that happen.”

Staring at the floor, Dean whispered, “She didn’t do anything I didn’t deserve.”

“You have never done anything,” Sam forcefully argued, “to deserve this.”

Dean’s eyes closed. “All she wanted was payback.”

“A couple of these cuts need stitches.” Willing his hand not to shake, Sam picked up a needle and sutures. He kept his eyes on his task. He didn’t want to know, but couldn’t keep from asking, “Did you…torture her?”

“Yeah.” Dean clenched his hands into fists, tearing the fresh stitches.

Sam gently opened his brother’s fingers to ease the pain Dean wasn’t reacting to, but that Sam knew had to exist. “Dean, remember she was in Hell for a reason. You were there because you traded your life for mine. I doubt what she did was as altruistic.”

His lips quivering, Dean said, “Doesn’t matter what she did when she was alive. She didn’t deserve what I did to her.”

Sam wiped at a white residue surrounding the cut. Rage burned inside him when he realized it was salt. The demon had inflicted a large amount of pain with the least amount of damage, designed to prolong her victim’s suffering. It took all Sam’s willpower to keep from venting his anger. Even sending the bitch back to Hell hadn’t been punishment enough.

“When I was pulled out of Hell, I thought I had left it forever.” His raspy voice barely loud enough to be heard, Dean said, “But I keep getting pulled back.”

Wishing he knew how to bandage his brother’s internal wounds as easily as he was the external ones, Sam cupped the back of Dean’s head, offering the only comfort he could.

The painkillers finally took effect, and Dean’s eyes slid closed. Placing a bandage over the last cut, Sam helped his brother lie down on the bed. A soft moan proved there was no comfortable position for his tortured body. Pulling the covers up, Sam lightly laid them over the shuddering form.

The warmth eventually stilled the shivering. Muffled snores told Sam his brother had found peace. Sam only wished it would last longer than a few hours.

A knock at the door had him racing across the room, praying the noise wouldn’t disturb Dean. Relieved to see Bobby on the other side, Sam glanced at his brother to make sure he was still asleep before stepping outside and closing the door behind him.

“Dean all right?” asked Bobby, frowning.

“None of the cuts were too deep. Only a couple needed stitches. He just fell asleep.” Sitting on the sidewalk with his back against the wall, Sam looked down at his bloody hands. “He thinks he got what he deserved.”

Grunting, Bobby joined the younger man on the ground. “I’m not surprised.”

“What?” Sam had to force himself to keep his voice low. “You think he deserved to be tortured?”

“Of course not.”

Bobby didn’t say it out loud, but Sam still heard a qualifying “idjit” at the end of his protest.

“Dean never has had a full sense of his worth,” growled Bobby. “Why would he start now?”

The last time Sam had felt this helpless was after John Winchester’s death. Nothing he had done then had helped Dean cope with his grief. He didn’t feel any more confident in his abilities to think he could be of assistance now. “What do I do?”

“The same thing you’ve always done. Be his brother. That’s all he’s ever wanted or needed.”

“Some brother I am.” Sam rubbed his back where Jake had stabbed him. “It’s my fault he went to Hell in the first place.”

Bobby slapped Sam’s shoulder—hard. “You didn’t ask him to trade his soul for your life. He made the decision, and he was willing to live with the consequences.”

“Until he realized what those consequences would be. By then it was too late.”

“Even now,” Bobby softly stated, “knowing what he would face, if he had to do it all over again, he would make the same choice. You’re alive, Sam. As far as Dean’s concerned, that’s enough.”

“Is it? I hope you’re right.” Sam swore he would do everything in his power to prove to Dean his sacrifice had value. It would be a daunting task.

But one he would grab with both hands.